A new approach to tackling lung cancer

ONE SPOT: Physician Camelia Borta, oncologist Wasek Faisal, physician Prabaharan Manihatan, lung care co-ordinator Kath McCann and surgeon Andrew Lowe are working closer to improve lung care. Picture: LUKA KAUZLARIC
ONE SPOT: Physician Camelia Borta, oncologist Wasek Faisal, physician Prabaharan Manihatan, lung care co-ordinator Kath McCann and surgeon Andrew Lowe are working closer to improve lung care. Picture: LUKA KAUZLARIC

LUNG care specialists in Ballarat are starting to realise the difference a one-stop spot can make for patient care and in trying to break the stigma on Australia’s biggest cancer killer. 

Rapid Access Lung Lesion Clinic, based at the Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre, has pulled together an eight-strong team of surgeons, oncologists and respiratory physicians from July in a bid to expedite treatment for patients across western Victoria.

Medical oncologist and RALLC clinical lead Wasek Faisal said this allowed a team approach to discuss cases in real time, rather than wait for weekly meetings. Dr Faisal said streamlining the process was also  beneficial to patients, particularly those travelling from towns including Horsham, Ararat and Hamilton. 

“A multi-modality clinic helps us to shorten the time from presentation to diagnosis to treatment,” Dr Faisal said. “One of the hardest times for cancer patients is the period between diagnosis to starting treatment, the wait on what might happen. If we can potentially shorten that time and reduce anxiety we can improve patient outcomes.”

Lung cancer causes more than 20 per cent of cancer deaths in Australia – more than breast, prostate and ovarian cancer combined, Lung Foundation Australia data says. 

About 25 Australians die from lung cancer each day and there is a 15 per cent chance of surviving more than five years after diagnosis for any stage of the disease.

Smoking is a major risk factor, but not the only risk, for lung cancer. But Dr Faisal said the stigma associated with this made it harder to raise awareness and support early detection and research.

Dr Faisal said it was important to raise the profile of the disease and a key part of this was to keep working on new ways to improve patient care.

Ballarat Health Services’ lung care co-ordinator Kath McCann plays a major role in collecting and co-ordinating patient history. Dr Faisal said this meant about 80 per cent of the initial work was already done before the first time a patient presented and this allowed the team to analyse and make decisions sooner.

She said a BHS review last year showed inconsistencies in patients’ journeys for lung cancer treatment from when and where they were referred to their diagnosis and treatment in Ballarat. Ms McCann, whose background is physiotherapy, said the clinic was a good example of taking a look at a process and redesigning to do it better.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness month. Symptoms may include persistent cough, coughing blood, breathlessness, chest pain, fatigue, or weight loss.